Binyam Mohamed and the Search for Accountability

One of the interesting aspects of Binyam Mohamed's case, which is at the center of the story of Chapter 4, is that it provides a measure of how poorly the U.S. is performing on the question of accountability.

Last week The New York Times published this Reuters piece in its “World Briefing”:

The United States is among dozens of countries that have kidnapped and held terrorism suspects in secret detention over the past nine years, violating their basic human rights, a United Nations report charged Tuesday. It said that Algeria , China , Egypt , India , Iran , Russia , Sudan and Zimbabwe were also detaining security suspects or opposition members in unknown places. “On a global scale, secret detention in connection with counterterrorist policies remains a serious problem,” investigators said in a yearlong study that will be presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

It is one of the few mentions of the United Nations (UN) report in the American press, and it conspicuously understates the report's aims and conclusions. In fact, while the UN report puts secret detention in a global and historical framework, fully half of the space it devotes to recent violations of prohibitions on secret detention concerns the conduct of the United States since 9/11.

Among these violations is the rendition of detainees to proxy detention sites in third countries. Some snippets of the report's findings:

At least 15 prisoners—mostly seized in Karachi, Pakistan, or in the Pankisi Gorge in Georgia—claim to have been rendered by the CIA to the main headquarters of Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID, or Da'irat al-Mukhabarat al-‘Amma) in Amman, Jordan, between September 2001 and 2004. (¶144)

At least seven men were rendered to Egypt by the CIA between September 2001 and February 2003, and another was rendered to Egypt from the Syrian Arab Republic , where he had been seized at the request of the Canadian authorities. (¶146)

At least nine detainees were rendered by the CIA to the Syrian Arab Republic between December 2001 and October 2002, and held in Far Falestin, run by the Syrian Military Intelligence or Shu'bat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariyya. (¶147)

And finally,

At least three detainees were rendered to Morocco by the CIA between May and July 2002, and held in Temara prison. (¶151)

One of these three is Binyam Mohamed, whose name appears again several pages later, in a section entitled “Complicity in the practice of secret detention.” As the report's authors explain, a country is complicit in secret detention when it either asks another country to secretly detain a person or takes advantage of a secret detention situation by sending questions to the State holding the detainee to use in their interrogation. Among the complicit countries, the report finds, is

The United Kingdom in the cases of several individuals, including Binyam Mohamed, Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed and Rashid Rauf. In its submission for this study the United Kingdom Government referred to ongoing and concluded judicial assessment of the cases and stressed the work of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), as well as its policy of clear opposition to secret detention. (¶159)

That one paragraph attracted more attention in the UK that the entire report, which documents exponentially more violations by the Americans, did in the United States. In fact, I only found the UN report because the UK 's reaction made more news in the US that the report itself. The Associated Press (AP), in an article rather misleadingly titled “ Authors Defend Claim on UK Secret Prisons,” reported:

The authors of a U.N. report on the use of secret prisons in the fight against terrorism defended on Wednesday their claim that Britain was among countries complicit in the practice, even as the U.K. government dismissed the allegation as unsubstantiated and irresponsible….

The report explicitly mentions Britain as a country that was complicit in secret prisons, based on the claims by former detainees who say U.K. agents provided questions for, or were present at, interrogations conducted by intelligence services of another country.

The report refers to the case of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian-born British resident who was arrested in Pakistan and allegedly tortured there and in Morocco before being flown to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

In its statement the British Foreign Office said: “there is no truth in the suggestion that it is our policy to collude, solicit, or participate in abuses of prisoners.” It also rejected the suggestion that wrongdoing may have been covered up.

As we've seen already in Chapter 4, and as we'll follow in more detail in the chapter's conclusion, the British government's involvement in Binyam Mohamed's rendition and interrogation is being thoroughly investigated by both the Parliament and the courts, and the courts have clearly established that UK intelligence agencies passed questions through to Mohamed's interrogators in Morocco. What the British government continues to deny is that it knew the United States had essentially disappeared Mohamed and that Mohamed was being held and interrogated in Morocco. The facts suggest otherwise, of course, and investigations continue in Britain.

It was because of these investigations that the UN report resonated in England last week and the UK government felt compelled to contest the report's conclusion about its complicity. Meanwhile, in the country whose role in the secret detention of Binyam Mohamed and hundreds of others goes beyond complicity, to that of instigator and ringleader, the U.S. government did not even feel the need to defend or explain itself publicly.

According to the AP, “A spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva, Dick Wilbur, said the United States was still reviewing the report.”

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